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This glossary contains definitions of specific 3D printing terms and acronyms. To search for a term or a definition, simply use the search function of your browser and type the search term you’re looking for. This glossary is composed of three sections for an easier navigation:

3D printing technologies


3D-Bioplotter: A trademark by EnvisionTEC in which materials may range from viscous paste to free-flowing liquid, and are inserted using syringes moving in three dimensions. Air or mechanical pressure is applied to the syringe, which then deposits a strand of material according to the length of the movement and the period of time the pressure is applied. Parallel strands are plotted in one layer. For the following layer, the direction of the strands is turned over the center of the object, creating a fine mesh with good mechanical properties and mathematically-defined porosity. Bioprinting: A 3D printing technology in which a living tissue is deposited by an extruder.


Composite Filament Fabrication (CFF): A trademark by Mark One that is very similar to that of other FFF 3D printers: parts are built by fusing two-dimensional slices on top of each other.

Extrusion or Material Extrusion (ME): The most common and simplest 3D printing technique. It is suitable for domestic use and can be deployed in almost every environment. Extrusion uses plastic filament as the 3D printing material. The filament is heated, melting in the printing head of the 3D printer. The 3D printer then deposits the melted filament in precise detail, layer by layer.

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM): A trademark by Stratasys. FDM is an additive manufacturing technology in which the model or part is produced by extruding small flattened strings of molten material to form layers as the material hardens immediately after extrusion from the nozzle.

Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF): A non-trademarked term for filament-based 3D printing, equivalent to the trademarked Fused Deposition Modeling.

Plastic Jet Printing (PJP): A 3D printing technology that uses heat and pressure to extrude a continuous bead of material. Plastic thermoplastics are the only material used in PJP 3D printing.


Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM): A rapid prototyping system developed by Helisys Inc. (Cubic Technologies is now the successor organization of Helisys) In it, layers of adhesive-coated paper, plastic, or metal laminates are successively glued together and cut to shape with a knife or laser cutter.

Lamination: A technique of manufacturing a material in multiple layers, so that the composite material achieves improved strength, stability, sound insulation, appearance or other properties from the use of differing materials. A material already in layers is deposited, glued and cut layer after layer to construct an object. Selective Deposition Lamination (SDL): A 3D printing technology where 3D printer uses a selective method in depositing the adhesive to bond the sheets of paper. A much higher density of adhesive drops are deposited in the area that will become the part, and a much lower density of adhesive is applied in drops in the surrounding area that will serve as the support. Adhesive are applied in droplets onto a sheet of ordinary paper following the cutting of the profile of the part in that sheet (this process is repeated for each sheet of paper that will be used to create the part).

Sheet Lamination (SL): An additive manufacturing process in which sheets of material are bonded to form an object.

Material jetting 

Aerosol Jet: A trademark by Optomec which is totally different from ink jet, and utilizes aerodynamic focusing to precisely deposit electronic and other materials in dimensions ranging from 10 micrometers (microns) up to centimeter scale.

Binder Jetting (BJ):  A binder-based 3D printing technology developed at MIT and used by ExOne’s 3D printers. Inkjet print heads apply a liquid bonding agent onto thin layers of powder. By gluing the particles together, the part is built up layer by layer.

Directed Energy Deposition (DED): An additive manufacturing process in which focused thermal energy is used.

Drop on demand (DOD): A trademark by Solidscape (now a Stratasys brand) for 3D printing technology whereby 6000-12000 droplets of a wax-like material are deposited onto a build plate to create 3D models.

Laser Metal Deposition (LMD): A 3D printing process which casts and fuse metal with a laser beam.

Material jetting: A process in which material and glue are jetted on a platform layer after layer to construct an object. Multi Jet Fusion (MJF): A HP’s technology that starts by laying down a thin layer of material in the working area. Next, the carriage containing an HP Thermal Inkjet array passes from left-to-right, printing chemical agents across the full working area. The layering and energy processes are combined in a continuous pass of the second carriage from top-to-bottom. The process continues, layer-by-layer, until a complete part is formed. At each layer, the carriages change direction for optimum productivity.

Multijet modeling: A 3D Systems’ patented printing technology that uses thermoplastic material deposited in layers on a platform.

Photopolymer Jetting (PJ): A process where inkjet print heads are used to jet liquid photopolymers onto a build platform. The material is immediately cured by UV lamps and solidified which allows to build layers on top of each other.

Plaster-based 3D Printing (PP): A 3D process that uses inkjet heads similar to those on regular home (2D) Printers and can 3D Print Plaster in full color.

PolyJet: A trademark by Stratasys for 3D printing technology. PolyJet 3D printing is similar to inkjet printing, but instead of jetting drops of ink onto paper, PolyJet 3D Printers jet layers of curable liquid photopolymer onto a build tray.

Pressurized Spray Deposition (PSD): A technology that was coined by HotEnd Works for ceramics to manufacture ceramics parts. The 3D printer deposits simultaneously two different materials on the printbed: the parent material (made of ceramic powder) and a polymeric binding material, that also serves as a support material.

Thermojet: A 3D Systems’ patented printing technology used by 3D Systems’ 3D printers that uses thermoplastic material deposited in layers on a platform.


3SP (Scan, Spin and Selectively Photocure): A trademark by EnvisionTEC where a multi-cavity laser diode with an orthogonal mirror spinning at 20,000 rpm reflects the beam through a spinning drum, where the light passes through a series of optical elements thereby focusing the light onto the surface of the photopolymer across the Y direction. The Imaging Light Source (ILS) contains the a multi-cavity laser diode, its driver, and all optics. The ILS travels in the X direction at 1-2 inches per second (material dependent) while the laser light scans the Y direction and selectively photo-cures liquid resin based on the data path.

Daylight Polymer Printing (DPP): A 3D printing process patented by Photocentric company.

Digital Light Processing (DLP): A 3D printing process very similar to SLA where a projector is used to cure photopolymer resin. The only difference is that instead of a UV laser to cure the photopolymer resin, a safelight (light bulb) is used.

Gel Dispensing 3D Printing (GDP): A 3D printing technology that utilizes movement similar to what is used in FDM systems, while working with a UV sensitive material that hardness when exposed to UV light.

Lithography-based Ceramic Manufacturing (LCM): A process for the structuring of ceramics that was developed by Lithoz. The LCM-process is based on the selective curing of a photosensitive resin which contains homogeneously dispersed ceramic particles. Photopolymers constitute the backbone of the formed part during the production process. They act as binder between the ceramic particles and make the precise shaping of the part possible.

MFP: A trademark by Prismlab that is similar to Stereolithography (SLA) where a laser beam is used to photo polymerise liquid resin to build a 3D object. The MFP 3D printing technology is able to fabricate objects at the super fast rate of 3.27 cm per hour, and also has build volume extended capacities.

MovingLight: A trademark by Proadways that is similar to Digital Light Processing (DLP) and Stereolithography (SLA). It uses a powerful energy source to photopolymerized a liquid resin to create a 3D printed object. The MovingLight technology relies on a fast and precise moving DLP heat to photocure a high viscosity material. The compatible 3D printing materials include composites, ceramics, metals and alloys with biocompatible properties.

Photopolymerisation: A 3D printing process where liquid resin is photopolymerized by a light source to create layers of solid material. Photo-solidification: A 3D printing technology that cures a photo-reactive resin with a UV laser or another similar power source.

Solid Free-form Fabrication (SFF): The process of producing freeform solid objects directly from a computer model without part-specific tooling or human intervention by curing a photo-reactive resin with a UV laser or another similar power source.

Solid imaging: A 3D printing technology that cures a photo-reactive resin with a UV laser or another similar power source.

Stereolithography (SLA or SL): A 3D Systems’s patented 3D printing technology used for producing models, prototypes, patterns, and production parts up one layer at a time by curing a photo-reactive resin with a UV laser or another similar power source.

Vat Photo-polymerization (VA): An additive manufacturing process in which liquid photopolymer in a vat is selectively cured by light-activated polymerization.

Powder bed fusion 

Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS): An additive manufacturing technique that uses a laser as the power source to sinter powdered material (typically metal), aiming the laser automatically at points in space defined by a 3D model, binding the material together to create a solid structure.

Direct Metal Printing (DMP): A trademark by 3D Systems that uses a laser to harden and bond small grains of metal into layers in a 3D structure. The laser traces the pattern of each cross section of the 3D design onto a bed of powder. After one layer is built, the bed lowers and another layer is built on top of the existing layers.

Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing (EBAM): A trademark by Sciaky in which Sciaky’s electron beam gun deposits metal (via wire feedstock), layer by layer, until the part reaches near-net shape and is ready for finish machining. Very fast deposition rates ranging from 7 to 20 lbs. per hour.

Electron Beam Melting (EBM): A type of additive manufacturing for metal parts, originally patented and developed by Arcam. It is very similar to SLM, but EBM uses an electron beam as its power source, as opposed to a laser.

High-Temperature Laser Sintering (HTLS): A trademark by EOSINT that uses a layering process on high-melt polymers at temperatures of up to 385 °C, producing parts with remarkable properties.

Laser Melting (LM): A process where a thin layer of metal powder is selectively melted by a laser. The parts are built up layer by layer in the powder bed.

Laser Metal Fusion (LMF): A 3D printing process where a layer of metal powder is selectively melted by a laser. The parts are built up layer by layer in the powder bed.

Laser Sintering (LS): A 3D printing technology that uses a CO2 laser to heat and fuse durable thermoplastic powder to build versatile parts with high elongation at break.

LENS: A trademark by Optomec that uses a high-power laser (500W to 4kW) to fuse powdered metals into fully dense three-dimensional structures.

Powder bed fusion (PBF): A process where a material in powder state is locally melted to generate precise layers of materials. Selective Heat Sintering (SHS): A type of additive manufacturing process that works by using a thermal printhead to apply heat to layers of powdered thermoplastic. When a layer is finished, the powder bed moves down, and an automated roller adds a new layer of material which is sintered to form the next cross-section of the model.

Selective Laser Melting (SLM): An additive manufacturing process that uses 3D CAD data as a digital information source and energy in the form of a high-power laser beam, to create three-dimensional metal parts by fusing fine metal powders together.

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS): An additive manufacturing (AM) technique that uses a laser as the power source to sinter powdered material (typically metal), aiming the laser automatically at points in space defined by a 3D model, binding the material together to create a solid structure.

3D scanning technologies

Structured light 

Structured light (white or blue): A 3D scanning technology that casts a structured light (typically a grid) and calcultes the deformation of the grid on the surface, therefore deducting its properties.

Laser triangulation

Laser triangulation: A process that casts a laser and calculates the deviation of the beam, therefore deducing the surface properties.

Pattern fringe triangulation: A system that projects a series of linear patterns onto an object. Then, by examining the edges of each line in the pattern, it calculates the distance from the scanner to the object’s surface.


Photogrammetry: A 3D scanning technolgie that uses multiple photographies of the object to reconstruct a 3D volume.


Contact: A process that registers the coordiates of every point of the surface it touches, therore deducting from multiple samples the surface properties.

Coordinate Measuring Machine (CMM): A device for measuring the physical geometrical characteristics of an object. Measurements are defined by a probe attached to the third moving axis of this machine. Probes may be mechanical, optical, laser, or white light, amongst others.

Laser pulse 

Laser pulse: A 3D scanning technology that casts a laser and calculates the time of flight to deduce the distance from samples of the surface.

Laser Phase-shift: A system that conceptually works similarly to Laser pulse. In addition to pulsing the laser, it also modulates the power of the laser beam, and the scanner compares the phase of the laser being sent out and then returned to the sensor.

3D printing materials

Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS): A thermoplastic, stronger than PLA. ABS can withstand higher temperatures. ABS contracts when cooled and requires an heated printing surface.

Alumide: A thermoplastic made for a matte surface which is somewhat porous and shiny. Alumide is no more or less durable than polyamide. In fact, their physical properties are very similar.

Bendlay: An extremely translucent (91% of light passes through) and flexible thermoplastic.

Carbon: A thermoplastic reinforced with carbon fibers.

CPE or PET (polyethylene terephalate): PET is a thermoplastic with excellent wear resistance, low coefficient of friction, high flexural modulus, and superior dimensional stability. Also called UPET.

High Impact Polystyrene (HIPS): A thermoplastic that is very similar to ABS. HIPS is solvable in limonene.

Nylon: A thermoplastic that prints as a bright natural to white with a translucent surface, and can absorb color added post process with clothing dyes.

Polyamide: A strong and flexible thermoplastic that can take small impacts and resist some pressure while being bent. The surface has a sandy, granular look, and is slightly porous.

Polycarbonate: A strong and very resistant to impacts thermoplastic. The polycarbonate is notably used for making bullet proof glass.

Polycarbonate-Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (PC-ABS): A thermoplastic that offers the best features of two great FDM thermoplastics: the strength and heat resistance of PC and the flexibility of ABS.

Polylactic Acid (PLA): A thermoplastic that is made from renewable resources (corn-starch) and the ‘default’ recommended material for most 3D printers.

Polystyrene (PS): A clear, hard, and rather brittle thermoplastic. It is an inexpensive resin per unit weight. It is a rather poor barrier to oxygen and water vapor and has a relatively low melting point.

Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA): A thermoplastic that is characterized by its super absorbent quality, great durability and cleaning ability, and the super soft texture when moist. Compared to other sponge material such as PU and cellulose, the sponge products made from PVA is more durable and last longer.

Thermoplastic Elastomer (TPE): A flexible thermoplastic material that feels and acts much like flexible rubber.
Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) A 3D printing material with many properties, including elasticity, transparency, and resistance to oil, grease and abrasion.

Ultem: A thermoplastic that offers outstanding elevated thermal resistance, high strength and stiffness, and broad chemical resistance. ULTEM is available in transparent and opaque custom colors, as well as glass filled grades.

Wax: A malleable near ambient temperatures 3D printing material that insoluble in water but soluble in organic, nonpolar solvents.

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